Everyone calls the Free Application for Federal Student Aid by its acronym: FAFSA. The U.S. Department of Education administers the online FAFSA and millions of students complete the FAFSA each year.
The FAFSA is the most far-reaching financial aid application because it:
- Determines Federal Pell Grant eligibility
- Has a key role in determining PA state grant eligibility (and other states’ grants)
- Is required for federal student and parent loans
- Is needed for some scholarships
Most students under the age of 24 will need to include information about their parent(s) on their FAFSA, even if they live separately or their parent(s) will not help them financially.
More information about dependent and independent students from Federal Student Aid.
What if your parents are divorced or separated or never married?
More information about which parent(s) to include from Federal Student Aid.
Creating an FSA ID
You and, if needed, a parent, sign your FAFSA electronically using the FSA ID. If you do not have a FSA ID, you (and parent) should each create one at least 1-3 weekdays before you start your FAFSA. Create an FSA ID.
The 2020-2021 FAFSA
- For students starting (or returning) for Summer or Fall 2020 and/or Spring 2021 Semesters
- Available on October 1, 2019
- The 2020-2021 FAFSA uses income from year 2018 rather than 2019
The early release of the FAFSA gives ample time for all students to submit their FAFSA well before Penn College’s March 1 Priority FAFSA Submission Deadline. The use of 2018 income will allow a high percentage of student and parent taxpayers to use the IRS Data Retrieval Tool (DRT) embedded within the FAFSA. The DRT transfers IRS income and tax information from a taxpayer’s 2018 IRS tax return directly to the 2020-2021 FAFSA. We highly recommend students and parents use the DRT because it:
- Simplifies your FAFSA completion process
- Reduces the odds of error on your FAFSA
- Reduces the likelihood that your FAFSA is selected for Federal Verification
Note: If you start in Fall 2019 or Spring 2020 Semester, you complete the 2019-2020 FAFSA.
Even though students can complete their FAFSA in October, other factors prevent the awarding of aid during the autumn and winter earlier than before. View Financial Aid award timeline.
Contact the Financial Aid Office with any questions you have about the FAFSA.
About 1 out of 4 students who submit a FAFSA are selected for a process called Federal Verification by the U.S. Department of Education. The Financial Aid Office is here to assist you if you are chosen.
Incomplete or conflicting information on your FAFSA may lead to verification, or your FAFSA may be chosen at random. Regardless of the reason, the Financial Aid Office must compare FAFSA data with verification information received from students (and parents). We must complete verification before we can process Federal Direct Loans, any federal grants, Federal Work-Study, or private alternative loans. That means no federal aid or private loans will be applied toward your eBill until verification is finalized.
If your FAFSA is selected for Federal Verification, the Financial Aid Office will mail you a detailed letter and Verification Form that explains what you (and parents) need to do. The verification process is somewhat ‘customized,’ so not all students and parents are required to provide the same information. However, everyone needs to complete and return the Verification Form we mail.
Using the IRS Data Retrieval Tool (DRT) on your FAFSA makes the verification process go faster! The DRT allows taxpayers (student or parent) to transfer key financial data from their IRS Tax Return directly to a FAFSA. Students and parents who use the DRT and did not change any of the transferred items will, with very few exceptions, not have to provide us with any financial documents for verification. Taxpayers who were unable to use the DRT will, in most cases, need to provide us with signed copies of IRS Tax Return Transcripts ordered directly from the IRS. Learn how to request a Tax Return Transcript.
Wage earners who don’t need to submit IRS tax returns will need to provide us with
- copies of all of their W-2 Forms for the calendar year stated on their Verification Form, and
- a Verification of Non-filing Letter, which you must request from the IRS (not needed for 'dependent' students who are required to have parental information on their FAFSA)
Once we have everything we need from you (and parents) we compare your FAFSA data with verification information received and, if needed, we will adjust your FAFSA information. In some cases, we may require additional information. Please respond quickly to prevent delays in processing your financial aid.
From winter into early summer, we receive a large number of verifications and we cannot process them as quickly as we would like to. If your FAFSA is chosen for verification, we appreciate your patience. Promptly providing us with all of the information we request and, if eligible, using the DRT, will allow us to complete your verification more quickly. Note that students accepted for Fall 2020 Semester can check on their verification status by late November by accessing their applicant dashboard. Returning students view their FAFSA status using the 'View Financial Aid Information' section of SIS.
PHEAA has a similar but separate review for Pennsylvania state grant recipients called Validation. If you receive an email or letter from PHEAA describing the Validation process, you will need to submit to PHEAA the financial documents it requests, even if you have previously sent us documents for Federal Verification.